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A Long Journey to St. Norbert

Now a student at St. Norbert College, Namayan Laizer ’20 is about as far away from her home as possible.

Laizer, 32, grew up in a Masai village in Tanzania, where her family cared for cows. Her upbringing is quite different from her classmates in other ways: her father has eight wives and she is one of 65 children.

“In my family, girls did not go to school. You took care of the goats, sheep and little cows and then you got married,” Laizer says.

But that wasn’t what Laizer wanted. “I used to see the village children going to school so I followed them one day,” she says. The teacher saw her and asked if she wanted to attend school. Laizer said yes, so the teacher wrote a letter to her father saying the young girl should be allowed to attend. “I gave my father the letter, but he could not read so he says, ‘What does it say?’ so I told him,” she says. “He did not want me to go, but I kept asking, so he told my mother to take me shopping for school. I was so thankful.”

In school, she learned to read and speak Swahili. (Her family spoke Masai at home.) “When I went to school, I felt like I was going away; and part of a different world when I was in school,” Laizer says.

Despite many obstacles – including family pressure to marry, and the need to move to a different village where she lived in a dorm to attend high school – Laizer continued her education. “Women do not have a lot of say in Masai culture, but I wanted my sisters to go to school and knew I had to lead the way,” she says. Laizer eventually received her teacher’s license and met missionaries who encouraged her to further her education in the United States. At the embassy, they gave her a book of U.S. colleges, and she chose St. Norbert since it was close to Antigo, Wis. – where the missionaries were from.

“It took me a long time to get my passport and later get my visa,” she says. “It was very tough, but I did not give up to get here.”

After arriving in De Pere, Laizer enrolled in an English as a Second Language program, used a computer for the first time and adjusted to Wisconsin weather. Last fall, she began working towards a bachelor’s degree in international studies, which she plans to use to connect multicultural societies: “When you connect people, good things happen.”

At St. Norbert, she elected to live in a res hall while a local family she’s grown close to helps care for her son (John, 4). “Being in the dorm gives me ample time to explore and learn about the Norbertine community and how they practice radical hospitality to change the world,” Laizer says. “I hope it will help me when I go back, and help me change my world.”

March 17, 2017